The Love Vaccine

20:29 Mon 12 Jan 2009. Updated: 15:36 16 Nov 2009
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While I tend to be skeptical of scientific claims to understanding the workings of human brains and particularly human emotions, it’s clear that science is improving in this area, and that pharmaceutical behavior/mood modification is increasing in efficacy. So when scientists claim a chemical understanding of love (paywall-protected full version here), and the ability to induce it under some circumstances, it’s definitely interesting.

In that article, says:

…[Dr. Larry Young] said there could soon be drugs that increase people’s urge to fall in love.
“It would be completely unethical to give the drug to someone else,” he said, “but if you’re in a marriage and want to maintain that relationship, you might take a little booster shot yourself every now and then. Even now it’s not such a far-out possibility that you could use drugs in conjunction with marital therapy.”
Anti-Love Drug May Be Ticket to Bliss, John Tierney, NYTimes.com, 12 Jan 2009

As the title suggests, Tierney discuss the idea that while people will probably go for the love potion first, that the really smart play could be the vaccine, which would presumably prevent one from falling in love, and therefore from suffering longing, unrequited passion, distracting crushes, etc., etc.

It’s a cute idea, but both the love potion and the love vaccine bring up some core questions about what love and free will are… if we could fall in love with someone, or be induced to do so, by some chemical, what does that say about love anyway? Chemicals aside, do we choose to fall in love, or are we overcome by something beyond our control? If it’s “beyond our control”, what is it and where does it come from? I don’t think it’s purely based on hormones, because then the classic love-at-first-sight-across-the-room trope wouldn’t exist. But if it is something beyond our control, somehow, then would taking drugs to offset its impact be a liberating act, taking back mastery of our deep emotional selves from some bizarre irrationality? Would it induce a tremendous increase in control freakery, where people would be able to avoid falling in love and hence would be more inclined to only allow the possibility with the “right” person, with a likely result of some less pain and a lot less love, and far fewer successful matches since, generally, we’re not actually that good at identifying what’s going to make us happy?

Presumably the opposite would be true too, easy access to these drugs could create love junkies who go for the unrequited passion trip. And, finally, it raises the specter of an entirely different class of “date rape drug”, where questions of volition, abuse, and predation would be far more complex than they are today.

The odds are against science suddenly coming up with perfect love potions, so perhaps it’s not a practical worry for the moment, but I think the questions raised about our selves are interesting indeed.

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